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How to Tell If a Prospect Is Interested

How to Tell If a Prospect Is Interested

March 3, 2015

by Dan Solin

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Your presentation materials may be eminently persuasive and your delivery equally flawless, but your prospect’s mind may be on an entirely different topic. Here’s how to tell if your prospect is listening and – more importantly – interested in what you are saying.

In his fascinating book, Honest Signals, MIT professor Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland recounts an experiment. A group of executives presented business plans at a meeting at MIT. The group then chose the best ideas to recommend to a team of venture capital experts.

Pentland rigged a device to record certain characteristics of the speakers. It didn’t document what they said, but rather measured the variability in their speech, their level of activity, their gestures, their facial expressions and the presence or absence of head nods between the presenter and the listeners.

When the meeting concluded, the group voted on the ideas they thought were best. All of the ideas discussed — and not just the one selected by the group — were then given in written form to venture capitalists, who evaluated and ranked them.

The ranking by the venture capitalists was starkly different from the set of ideas selected by the group of business executives. When Pentland analyzed the results from the device, he was able to predict the business plans the executives would choose “with nearly perfect accuracy.”

The venture capital experts, however, made their decision based solely on the data presented in the documents they were given, disconnected from the subtle messages conveyed in a live presentation.

Pentland’s conclusion from this study, and many others, has broad ramifications for advisors: “People have a second channel of communication that revolves not around words but around social relations. This social channel profoundly influences major decisions in our lives even though we are largely unaware of it.”

Here are some “honest signals” that may denote a prospect’s interest or lack thereof:

Mimicry

As I wrote in a previous article, mimicry (also called “mirroring”) is a powerful indicator of interest. If you see your prospect unconsciously mimicking your behavior, it is likely your interaction will be successful.

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